Scribblers into Activists: From the Enlightenment to the New English Review

by Jerry Gordon (July 2010)

Among the historical figures who transformed the art of pamphleteering into bold initiatives are John Peter Zenger and Thomas Paine during the Age of Revolution, Emile Zola and Theodore Herzl during the Dreyfus Affair of the Third Republic in France, and Winston Churchill and George Orwell during the Pre-World War II epoch. Gordon relates his experiences as a writer activist in the era of the Anti-Jihad movement using the tools of the internet and instant communications. The review provide details of current New English Review initiatives in radio broadcasting and publishing to create alliances and broaden its reach to a wider public audience influencing developments regarding human rights, national and international security policies. 

Scribblers of Note in the Age of Revolution: Peter Zenger and Thomas Paine

The United States has the protection of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in our written Constitution. The Bill of Rights was a testament to the revolt against British colonial overlords. Americans in our Revolutionary War against the British Crown, fought to achieve individual rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as framed in our Declaration of Independence. 

The First Amendment ‘establishment clause’ forbade the establishment of a state religion, a good thing that denies the goal of Islam and Sharia. The First Amendment also protected a free press that was motivated to be vigilant and present the facts, which all too often maybe violated in biased reporting.

This brings us to John Peter Zenger. Zenger was a German immigrant and newspaper publisher in New York City in the colonial era. Zenger in 1735 was taken to task for criticizing the Royal Governor, William Cosby, who clapped him in jail on charges of seditious libel. 

Zenger went through a trial with Philadelphia lawyer, Alan Hamilton, as counsel. Hamilton did something astonishing for that colonial era. He built a defense based on attacking colonial laws of sedition and won a juried decision that set a remarkable precedent for the drafting of our First Amendment. Zenger returned to publishing the New York Weekly Journal. His comment is timeless and apropos of the current controversy that Geert Wilders is facing in the Dutch courts. Zenger said:

“No nation, ancient or modern, ever lost the liberty of speaking freely, writing, or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves.”

So, Peter Zenger was indeed an exemplar of the scribbler/activist, whose ringing defense of free speech has redounded through the ages and today enables us to pursue our quotidian tasks as bloggers and writers.

We can also put Thomas Paine in that category. Paine, a British immigrant to America, whose pamphlet, Common Sense, was reprinted a million fold after publication in January, 1776. If not for a chance meeting in London in 1774 with Benjamin Franklin, America and France may not have benefitted from his ideas that justified the goals of revolution against despotism. Paine was a product of a Church of England father and Quaker mother who eschewed formal religion in favor of Deism. Later as a prisoner in revolutionary France, he wrote the Age of Reason a tract against organized religion. As a tax collector in his native England he advocated before Parliament for better pay and working conditions only to be sacked. His writings improved, but his business ventures and marriage failed. For both Paine and Americans his luck turned when he met Benjamin Franklin and migrated to Philadelphia. There he edited the Pennsylvania Magazine, wrote anti-slavery tracts and pamphlets for the burgeoning American Independence movement. Because of his treatment in England, he was a confirmed anti-Monarchist. 

His series of pamphlets called The American Crisis were a significant morale booster for American revolutionaries. Some historians claim that they influenced the Declaration of Independence in July, 1776. Note George Washington and other Revolutionary leaders’

Common Sense
convinced many Americans, including George Washington to seek redress in political independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Benjamin Rush had a great influence on this work, as well as its name. (Paine proposed the title Plain Truth). It was instrumental in bringing about the Declaration of Independence. Paine also has the distinction of being the man who proposed the name United States of America for the new nation.

During the Revolutionary War Paine published a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis that served to inspire Americans during the long struggle. The first Crisis paper, published December, 1776, began with the immortal line, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Following a series of military failures, morale was wavering among the Patriot army. The first Crisis paper was so uplifting that Washington had it read to all of his troops.
In 1791 Paine wrote The Rights of Man a political tract in support of the French Revolution. While a supporter of the French Revolutionary cause, he distrusted Robespierre and the Jacobins and was jailed, but miraculously was spared an execution by the Guillotine. Paine was lauded by Napoleon, and his writings were said to have influenced President Lincoln. He passed away in Greenwich Village in 1809.

Scribbler Activists in the Era of the Dreyfus Affair

French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was framed by the French General staff to cover espionage by the renegade Major Ferdinand Esterhazy who had passed military secrets to the German Embassy. Dreyfus’ first trial and conviction as a traitor on trumped up espionage charges in 1896 led to his sentencing to incarceration for life on the infamous Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Revelations about the innocence of Captain Alfred Dreyfus came to light after an investigation by Col. Picquet revealed that Maj. Henry of the intelligence staff had forged documents effectively scapegoating Captain Dreyfus leading to his conviction at his first trial. Picquet then leaked these facts to liberal opponents of Premier Favre. Senator August Scheurer-Kestner raised the issue of Dreyfus’ innocence and Esterhazy’s guilt in the French Senate. The Dreyfus Affair became a cause célèbre in France pitting the liberal intelligentsia and commercial classes against the conservative Favre government, the French General Staff and the church hierarchy who poured anti-Semitic vitriol on the character of Dreyfus and fellow French Jews using false allegations of divided loyalty.

Emile Zola

who returned to France in 1899, was given the choice of a pardon or a further military trial. He chose the pardon, but was fully exonerated in 1906. His rank was restored, promoted to Major, made a Knight of the Legion of Honor and retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel after serving as an Artillery Commander during the First World War. Dreyfus died in 1935.

Zola died at age 62 under mysterious circumstances in 1902. His ashes were moved to the Pantheon in 1906, a mark of honor. His famous remark about the outcome of the Dreyfus Affair was:

“The truth is on the march, and nothing shall stop it.”  

Theodore Herzl

“At Basle, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.”

Scribbler activists in the Pre-World War Two Era

Following the electoral defeat of Conservative government in 1929 Churchill lost his Cabinet position. He entered his so-called ‘wilderness years.” By necessity he returned to his journalist origins, became a columnist and wrote his wide ranging History of the English Speaking Peoples. He continued as a generally disregarded Conservative back bencher in Parliament. When the ‘Nazees’ as Churchill called them assumed power in March 1933, Churchill concluded that the Democratic West would ultimately find themselves in mortal combat with a renewed, re-invigorated, re-armed anti-Semitic Germany with lebensraum expansionist goals to reclaim lands lost as a result of the Versailles Treaty. 

Churchill was especially concerned about lagging British Aircraft production and its consequences in the face of German rearmament. As

Beginning in 1934 he articulated a series of warnings that the government was missing the growing threat from German air armament. In an eloquent and, in retrospect, all too accurate speech in November 1934, he warned: ‘To urge preparation of defense is not to assert the imminence of war. On the contrary, if war were imminent, preparations for defense would be too late.’ Prime Minister Baldwin replied by assuring the House of Commons, ‘His Majesty’s Government is determined in no condition to accept any position of inferiority with regard to what air force may be raised in Germany in the future.’ In fact, the government was doing little to force the pace of RAF rearmament — all the more extraordinary in view of the fact that earlier that same year Baldwin had uttered his claim that ‘the bomber will always get through.’

Given his political connections and network of concerned officials in the British Air Ministry, the RAF and in the Foreign Office, he formed a working group involving Brendan Bracken and Professor Lindemann at Oxford to find out the particulars of German aircraft production. Churchill wrote tirelessly using information supplied by his working group about the rapid buildup of German Luftwaffe production in violation of the Versailles Treaty. This enabled Churchill to incessantly prod the resistant Baldwin and later Chamberlain governments to ultimately expand British production of tactical Spitfire defensive fighters.

After the debacle of “peace in our times” after Munich in 1938, Churchill’s stock rose with the Fleet Street press. Chamberlain was forced to invite him to join the Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1939 following the declaration of war against Nazi Germany. Chamberlain resigned in May, 1940 when unable to form a unity government, whereupon Churchill was asked to form a wartime unity government. Churchill’s emphasis on aircraft production during his ‘wilderness years’ enabled the RAF together with the new technology of radar to win the Battle of Britain in 1940 against the Luftwaffe onslaught and bombing of London, Coventry and other major cities. Thus, we consider Churchill as an exemplar of a scribbler activist who made a difference in the war that ultimately vanquished Nazi totalitarianism.

Animal Farm, and his dark view of totalitarianism under the Party of Big Brother in the chilling 1984. Earlier in the 1930’s his works such as Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Keep the Apidistra Flying depicted the ravages of poverty during the Great Depression that ravaged Britain and left the British coal miners and middle class destitute and dispirited.


The Scribbler-Activist in the age of the Internet

1330AMWEBY radio roundtable discussions with experts on Middle East Affairs in Washington and Jerusalem that were transformed into NER articles.

major NER article on this episode.

Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), founder of the US House Anti- Terrorism Caucus.

The FMU Freedom Pledge figured in another networking relationship with the Florida Security Council (FSC) headed by Tom Trento and Dr. Richard Swier. In March 2009, we were invited to speak at what became the first FSC protests against Florida Muslim Capitol Days in Tallahassee organized by a controversial former CAIR Tampa chapter director, Ahmed Bedier. Bedier had formed a new Muslim Brotherhood front group, United Voices for America. We were one of several speakers who presented at the first FSC Anti-Terror Caucus event.

track record combating stealth jihad by Muslim Brotherhood groups in Florida. AG McCullom cancelled meetings that day with Bedier and the UAV.

Just prior to the Second NER Symposium, a disturbing event occurred in nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Complaints raised by a single individual alleged that articles published in The Rutherford Reader constituted hate speech against Islam. That complaint resulted in withdrawal of distribution of the weekly publication from racks in retail outlets in Kroger Supermarkets, and several other retail outlets. This occurred against the backdrop of a recent Rutherford County Planning Commission approval of a project to build a 52,000 sq. foot Mosque in this Bible belt community near metro Nashville. The Imam of this controversial Murfreesboro Mosque had organized a protest in early 2009 against the Israeli incursion in Gaza and in support of Hamas. We conducted an interview with The Rutherford Reader publisher Pete Doughtie and produced a companion filmed interview with him.

International Networking

We have received submissions from authors based in the U.K., France, Denmark and Hungary. We have also received interest in republishing articles in other languages. We have approved two such requests from a Polish publication.

Muslims and Westerners, The Psychological Differences”. Through Kobrin we have been introduced to Israeli Criminologist, Dr. Anat Berko, the author of a bestselling book about Islamic terrorism, The Path to Paradise: The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers. We hope to bring you an interview with Dr. Berko in a future edition of the NER.

The Lessons Learned

What to Expect in the Future From NER.

The New English Review in the view of many readers and especially our contributors is one of the few publishing venues where substantive articles can be presented to a growing audience eagerly awaiting the next edition.

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